My Books in Print

I’ll have an e-reader, Bob

Quiz, home and away

I like a quiz, me, and so does my sainted wife. We met at a pub quiz, and impressed one another early on with our quiz credentials; she had been on the Trinity College team on University Challenge, and was a grand finalist on 15 to 1, whereas I have twice been the subject of a question on University Challenge, have QM-ed all over the shop (most famously, I guess, at the Hay Festival), and learned my quiz chops in the hard school that is the Lancaster Quiz League. My wife is also something of a whizz at crosswords. She came tenth in the recent Times Crossword Championships in Cheltenham, and was the top placed female competitor. I say that she is the best woman crossword solver on Earth, and she has the certificates to prove it. No one is going to sit about with her relaxing and doing the crossword for a couple of hours in the morning, because on a good day she can do the Times Crossword in seven minutes.

We are competitive .  In our house on Saturday mornings we go eyeball to eyeball over the Guardian general knowledge quiz, we always try to beat one another on the BBC’s 7 Days Seven questions quiz, and listening to Brain of Britain, or watching University Challenge together just offer more chances for each of us to prove our quiz greatness, each over the other. If at Christmas, we suggest a game of Trivial Pursuit, our children groan, knowing that either my wife or I will triumph, and that we both really care who the winner is.

So whenever we see a quiz advertised, we try and make it along, so that for once, we can play on the same team, instead of eyeballing one another in a quiz stand off. My wife saw a poster for a quiz at the Baptist Church in Presteigne,  for Christian Aid. The booze might not flow, we reasoned, but since it was for charity, there would probably be a dozen or so teams for us to dominate and embarass. So, a week ago last Friday, we hired a baby sitter, and set out for the venue.

As we pushed open the doors, it became obvious that we had made a terrible mistake. Far from being a dozen or so teams champing at the quizzy bit, there was us, and one elderly gentleman, who turned out to be called Frank. There was also the Baptist minister, who was to be the QM.  Looking back, we couldn’t tell if she was pleased to see as, as it meant the quiz could go ahead, or horrified, as it now meant that she would have to stay in the freezing church and go through the motions of running the quiz. But she soldiered on.

‘It’s two pounds each,’ she said. But it was for charity, so we put in a fiver between us.

‘Sorry there aren’t any other teams,’ said the minister, bringing us tea and Fairtrade chocolate cookies. There was a large illuminated tract on the back wall of the chapel, saying, ‘Jesus is Coming. Soon.’ We waited around for ten minutes, but there was no sign of him turning up with a team. Or anybody else, for that matter.

‘That’s OK’, said my wife, making the best of things. ‘We’ll each enter seperately’. We spread ourselves around the room. Frank made a half-hearted effort to sit with my wife, but I was having none of it.

‘Oi! If I’ve got to compete on my own, then you can’t have any help,’ I said. So we made Frank go and sit on a table by himself. He said that it wasn’t really fair, because he wasn’t any good at quizzees, and had been hoping to join a team. But, there we are, old-timer. That’s life.  Game on.

There were twelve rounds of six questions each. At the end of the sixth round, the minister said,

‘I suppose we could just stop…’

My wife and I looked at one another across the church.

‘I don’t think so,’ I said.

So we batted on towards the end. The penultimate round was on the subject of Christian Aid.

‘We could skip this round,’ said the minister hopefully.

‘No no,’ insisted my wife, who worked for a long time as a fundraising volunteer for Christian Aid, and who now hoped to turn the years of sacrifice into an advantage for herself. So we did that round too.

At the end of the quiz, we swopped our answer papers. I marked Frank, Frank marked my wife, and she marked me. The Minister read out the answers. I realised that I had made some fundamental blunders. So, from her face, did my wife. Frank was resigned to coming last, which he did, with a paltry 12, daft old sod. We exchanged papers. My wife and I had got thirty each, which made the Minister sigh with something like relief, and something like exasperation. We could see the funny side… I guess. In our way. At least we’d done our bit for the World’s poor.

The Minister offered us our choice of prizes, which were chocolate based, and Free Trade. We each took a delicious chocolate treat, and headed for home, to relieve our babysitter, who had only been there 50 minutes by the time we got in.

Then, last Monday, November 22nd, I went up to that London to represent Simon and Schuster in the Annual PEN Colman Getty Quiz, questions set by Markus Berkman, QM, David Baddiel. My editor had booked me in for this for months, and had been so kind as to pay my trainfare. He had chosen his team from his illustrious backlist of authors not, so far as I could see, based on their suitability for big fundraising occasions with the great and good, but simply on how well he reckoned they’d do in the quiz. So there we were, in the Dining Hall of the Royal Institute of British Architects on  Portland Place, preparing to do battle with teams from all the London publishing houses, the Times, the guardian, The Bookseller, etc. Competitors on other teams included Ian Hislop, Sebastian Faulks, Arabella Weir, Francis Wheen, Grayson Perry, Andrew Rawnsley etc etc. Lovely people, I’m sure, but shit at quiz, clearly.

No point beating about the bush; we won the fucker. A superb team effort, with everyone contributing equally, but special mention should go to our captain, Mike Jones, whose steady captaincy clinched it, I reckon.

The prize was a bottle each of the sherry which the erstwhile Laureate Andrew Motion got for writing all those great poems when the Queen Mum went across. It looks very nice. It was selected by Sir Andrew, and has a label designed by his daughter. But what to do with it? I suggested to my team that we take our bottles of sherry down to Waterloo Bridge, to share them with the poor. There were no takers. So after a brief lap of honour of the School of English at Birmingham City University, our bottle of Laureate’s Sherry now sits in our front room.

We’ve decided what we’re going to do with it. Come Christmas, we’re going to decant it into the decanter which my wife won for being a 15 to 1 Grand Finalist; and we’re going to raise a glass to quizzers everywhere.

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